Viewing last week’s episode of ‘The Breakdown’ and the exceptionally good new production ‘Loosehead Footy’ on Sky, brings one to the realisation it’s the right time, right now in the present winds of change, for rugby union in this country reclaim its ethical equilibrium and heart in the Kiwi consciousness by casting aside its mercenary-shrouded Academy hothouse system and going back to the clubs as the nursery for its young talent.
However it can of course only happen if the wealth and success of Factory All Blacks inc. is given less priority by NZR.
New CEO Mark Robinson does bring a small ray of hope. There he was with Jeff Wilson last week espousing the merits of club rugby and lamenting the gradual decline in its memberships over the past several years.
Was this an admission from Robinson that NZR needs to re-focus itself back to its lifeblood grassroots and perhaps examine (re-examine?) its obsession with academy programmes? Can he convince Brent Impey that an ever-increasing number of hardcore and lifelong rugby people here have been sick and tired for a good while now of the be-all, end-all approach to all things All Black.
Robinson also said the biggest assets to NZR were the clubs and the people in them. Sounds noble and right. But such utterances are only pious platitudes are if there aren’t any initiatives from the top to encourage people back to the clubs in Covid’s wake.
Things were badly broken in the clubs a long time before the C word though. One genuine positive that was stymied by the sudden appearance of bastard Covid was the very innovative scheduling of a national club knock-out cup for rugby’s well-known Restricted weight (Under 85kg- for males at least) grade. That really was a shame. I was all set to a huge supporter of the concept and would have happily written as many pieces as I could championing it.
Hopefully it will take place next year. It’s a fantastic encouragement and initiative for bridging the disconnect between wanting to try out for a club team, but being a bit light of frame and having to come up against 120 kilogram refrigerators with tree stumps for thighs week after week.
Out of all the present flux in rugby’s scheduling and re-structuring, hopefully the shuffle of priorities will end up dealing the grassroots a better hand than they’ve had for a very long time.
The key point in all this being that NZR cannot and should not leave the survival or future flowering of the club game just to the clubs themselves for coming up with initiatives or new streams of revenue for increasing their falling numbers. As custodians of the sport, surely it should be a huge part of the Robinson-era NZR’s modus operandi to actively get more involved with the clubs in development and financial sustainability. The top part of the sport needs to reconnect better with the bottom.
By all means, set out to procure big sponsorships in the professional game- just please don’t funnel the bulk of the money into the All Blacks next time. Although there of course may just not be that much money around for quite some time in light of the state of the world this year.